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Before America Votes …What Nigeria Should Learn

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Come November 6, this year, voters in the United States of
America (USA) will file out to elect a President to run the affairs of state in
the next four years. But in an electoral process uniquely American, voting has
since started in some states of the union, without the familiar fear of a
likely bandwagon effect on the eventual outcome.

This year, the battle line is drawn between incumbent
President Barack Obama, of the Democratic Party, who is seeking re-election for
another four years and his Republican challenger, former Massachusetts governor
and wealthy American, Mitt Romney. Both have, for most part of last year, up to
now, been traversing the length and breadth of the union, seeking support for
majority votes.

In all these efforts, what is key, is not where each
candidate comes from or his religion. The process is also not subject to any
form of zoning. What are, are issues Americans consider very vital to their
well-being and future, among them, the economy, health care reforms, taxes, job
creation, foreign policy, global leadership, homeland security and most
importantly who better to address the disturbing state of job losses and
joblessness.

The interesting thing is that the entire process is defined
not by sentiments but real issues and a proper assessment of the pedigree,
capability and indeed preparedness of each of the candidates to address the
problems of the union, as defined by the moment. There, there is no single
party that can pride itself as the largest, hence, sure of victory until the
vote. The issue of incumbency, key to election victories in Africa, is as
weightless as the candidates’ places of birth. What counts, is each candidate’s
ability to convince the American voters that each is better suited and more
prepared to tackle national problems.

In furtherance of that, incumbent President Barack Obama has
pursued a campaign theme carved around the modest achievements made during his
first tenure. ‘We have gone very far, to go back’, in veiled reference to the
economic melt-down, he inherited from his Republican predecessor, former
President George Bush and job creation efforts gradually yielding positive
results. On the other hand, his challenger, Republican candidate Mitt, Romney
has repeatedly staked his renowned business success as manager and employer of
men and materials as a suiting credential to insist that he could do a better
job managing the economy and creating more jobs.

But beyond the self praise and countless advertisements
covering a wide-range of issues, both candidates must inter-face thrice, in
well-planned Presidential debates to properly articulate their vision and
method of actualising their plans. The first of such debates held last week
Wednesday in Denver, with the Republican challenger putting up a much better
performance than President Obama, with all the latter’s well-acknowledged
oratorical prowess and charisma.

The lesson there, among others, is that the handlers of the
debate were not only thorough and well-grounded in the burning needs of
Americans and indeed the defining issues, they demonstrated amazing
non-partisanship or impartiality. They did not, as would most African handlers,
favour the incumbent with leading questions or treat him as first among equals.

Of course, prior to the debate, virtually all polls favoured
President Obama in virtually all aspects of the defining issues and was also
considered more favourable to win than his challenger. That was partly because
of Obama’s amazing campaign rhetoric, drive and style as against Romney’s
inability to link-up properly with ordinary voters. Another, was Romney’s
comments about 47 per cent of Americans being so dependent on government, they
naturally, would vote for President Obama, a comment that inadvertently,
presented Romney as one not only out of touch with reality and the American
poor, but indeed one who cannot be relied upon to defend the middle class, and
therefore, could not be depended upon to address their needs.

That mis-speak was so over-exaggerated by the Democratic
fray that it seemed the elections had already been lost and won. What was
required therefore was to inject some measure of fresh air into the Romney
campaign, using the opportunity offered by the debates to explain, in what
context, he coughed that 47 per cent, dependents’ message.

Happily, the first of three Presidential debates provided
that much needed platform and Romney emerged therefrom with improved rating.
From an abysmal 36 per cent, which the polls had showed, that 48 per cent
American voters later understood the context in which Romney made the 47 per
cent message, was instructive.

Another lesson here, among all others, is that the voters
needed to know the measure of empathy a candidate could muster in times
challenges and needs and not just remain on a high-horse, far away, out of
touch with the people.

Knowing that to be so, a candidate risks electoral failure
should he delude himself with over-confidence, simply because he belongs to a
so called largest political party, as they often say, in Nigeria. In fact, some
politicians were known to have boasted at campaigns that a goat, dressed in a
particular political party’s garb would win elections and often did. What’s
more, didn’t one win elections, while in prison?

But the American process requires even more than special
attention to the worries of the average voter and how a candidate hopes to
address such worries, hence the debates and inter-face by the vote seekers. In
all, the voter is the king.

Although, Mitt Romney’s wonderful showing improved his
chances, and made the contest more interesting it however, did not completely
right-off Obama as a more likeable candidate and thus, with more favourable
rating. According to a Reuters/IPSOS survey released Saturday, Mitt Romney’s
strong debate performance did little to convince more voters (that) he
understands them or is a “good person”, although he has narrowed President
Barack Obama’s overall polls lead.

Just a month before the November 6 election, the Reuters
account said, the Democratic President is ahead of his Republican challenger on
character attributes that can win over undecided voters who have not been
swayed on policy points.

‘Romney gained in a few areas, but not at Obama’s expense
despite the incumbent’s lackluster performance in the first Presidential debate
of Wednesday.

‘On the broad question of who they will vote for, in
November, Obama kept his slim 2 percentage point lead over Romney among likely
voters-47-to 45 per cent according to the on-line survey.

‘The gap was unchanged from Friday, when Obama led by 46 to
44 per cent in the tracking poll. His lead was six percentage points before the
two men first went head-to-head in the Denver Presidential debate.

Obama even gained ground in some voters’ assessment of
character since before the debate, though a majority 55 to 23 per cent felt
Romney did a better job during the encounter in Denver, the survey showed.
IPSOS Pollster Julia Clark explained: “We haven’t; seen additional gains from
Romney. This suggests to me that this is more of a bounce than a permanent
shift”.

Bottomline: Obama had struck a better and enduring chord of
empathy with more American voters, than his challenger, and to such high
extents that flops at debates were not enough reason to wash away his
popularity.

Last Friday, Obama also recorded yet another boost with the
release of the monthly job report, signalling a drop in the U.S. jobless rate
in September to the lowest level since he took office. A decline in
unemployment to 7.8 per cent last month, down from well-above 8.1 per cent,
announced just more than four weeks before Election Day, gave an unexpected
shine to the most vulnerable part of Obama’s record  his economic stewardship  and offered the incumbent a chance to re-set
his re-election bid.

The lesson here is that Obama can be remembered for some
other positive achievements and that even in his most vulnerable area, the
economy, challenger Romney does not seem to be a better replacement.
Bottomline, pedigree and performance also count, poor oratoral skills,
notwithstanding.

So, when will Nigeria get there? When will character,
performance and pedigree count? When will rotation or zoning stop to make
little or no meaning? When indeed will religion and tribe cease to be defining
issues in Nigerian elections?

My Agony is that many influential Nigerians are not only
following the US electoral process, some even partook in the various party
conventions as observers but might have learnt nothing as the next elections
would show.

Methinks, if Nigeria is adopting the US Federal system, so
be it and not pick and choose what to adopt and what not to. Federalism is
federalism, nothing like true federalism. If we are in, lets be in, if we are
not, then lets opt out.

This is what the National Assembly owes Nigeria and
Nigerians as they seek to review the 1999 Constitution.

 

Soye Wilson Jamabo

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RSG, Not FIRS, Entitled To Collect VAT, Related Taxes In Rivers -Court

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The Federal High Court sitting in Port Harcourt has declared that it is the Rivers State Government, not the Federal Inland Revenue Services (FIRS), should collect Valued Added Tax (VAT) and Personal Income Tax (PIT) in the state.
The court, presided over by Justice Stephen Dalyop Pam, also issued an order of perpetual injunction restraining the Federal Inland Revenue Service and the Attorney General of the Federation, both first and second defendants in the suit, from collecting, demanding, threatening and intimidating residents of Rivers State to pay to FIRS, PIT and VAT.
Pam made the assertion while delivering judgement in Suit No. FHC/PH/CS/149/2020, filed by the Attorney General for Rivers State (plaintiff), against the Federal Inland Revenue Service (first defendant) and the Attorney General of the Federation (second defendant).
The court, which granted all the 11 reliefs sought by the Rivers State Government, stated that there was no constitutional basis for the FIRS to demand for and collect VAT, Withholding Tax (WHT), Education Tax and Technology Levy in Rivers State or any other state of the federation, being that the constitutional powers and competence of the Federal Government was limited to taxation of incomes, profits and capital gains, which do not include VAT or any other species of sales, or levy other than those specifically mentioned in Items 58 and 59 of the Exclusive Legislative List of the Constitution.
The judge dismissed the preliminary objections filed by the defendants that the court lacks jurisdiction to hear the suit and that the case should be transferred to Court of Appeal for interpretation.
Pam, who also dismissed objection raised by the defendants that the National Assembly ought to have been made a party in the suit, declared that the issues of taxes raised by the state government were issues of law that the court was constitutionally empowered to entertain.
He declared that after a diligent review of the issues raised by bothplaintiff and the defendants, the plaintiff had proven beyond doubt that it was entitled to all the 11 reliefs sought in the suit.
The court agreed with the Rivers State Government that it was the state and not FIRS that was constitutionally entitled to impose taxes enforceable or collectable in its territory of the nature of consumption or sales tax, VAT, education and other taxes or levies, other than the taxes and duties specifically reserved for the Federal Government by Items 58 and 59 of Part 1 of the Second Schedule of the 1999 Constitution as amended.
Also, the court declared that the defendants were not constitutionally entitled to charge or impose levies, charges or rates (under any guise or by whatever name called) on the residents of Rivers State, and indeed, any state of the federation.
Among the reliefs sought by the Rivers State Government, was a declaration that the constitutional power of the Federal Government to impose taxes and duties was only limited to the items listed in Items 58 and 59 of Part 1 of the Second Schedule of the 1999 Constitution as amended.
The Rivers State Government had also urged the court to declare that, by virtue of the provisions of Items 7 and 8 of the Part II (Concurrent Legislative List) of the Second Schedule of the Constitution, the power of the Federal Government to delegate the collection of taxes can only be exercised by the state government or other authority of the state, and no other person.
The state government had further asked the court to declare that all statutory provisions made or purportedly made in the exercise of the legislative powers of the Federal Government, which contains provisions which are inconsistent with or in excess of the powers to impose tax and duties, as prescribed by Items 58 and 59 of the Part I of the Second Schedule of the 1999 Constitution, or inconsistent with the power to delegate the duty of collection of taxes, as contained in Items 7 and 8 of Part II of the Second Schedule of the Constitution, were unconstitutional, null and void.
Lead counsel for the Rivers State Government, Donald Chika Denwigwe (SAN), who spoke to journalists after the court session, explained that the case was all about the interpretation of the Constitution as regards the authority of the government at the state and federal levels to collect certain revenues, particularly, VAT.
“So, during the determination of the matter, some issues of law were thrown up like, whether or not the case should be referred to the Court of Appeal for the determination of some issues.
“The court noted that the application is like asking the Federal High Court to transfer the entire case to the Court of Appeal. In which case, if the court so decides, there will be nothing left to refer back to the Federal High Court as required by the Constitution.”
According to Denwigwe, the court refused that prayer, and decided that the case was in its proper place before the Federal High Court, and was, therefore, competent to determine it.
Speaking on the implications of the judgement, Denwigwe said it was now, unlawful for such taxes as VAT in Rivers State to be collected by any agency of the Federal Government.
“In a summary, it is a determination that it is wrong for the Federal Government to be collecting taxes which are constitutionally reserved for the state governments to collect. The implication of the judgement is that the government (federal and state) as an authority under the constitution,should be advised by the judgement that it is the duty of all government authorities to comply with and obey the law so long as the court has interpreted it and said what that law is.
“So, in other words, the issue of Value Added Tax (VAT) in the territory of Rivers State and Personal Income Tax should be reserved for the government of Rivers State.”
Counsel to FIRS, O.C. Eyibo said he will study the judgment and advise his client.

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90% Of Money Laundered Via Real Estate, EFCC Reveals

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The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) says about 90 per cent of money laundering is done through the real estate sector.
The commission’s Chairman, Abdulrasheed Bawa, stated this while featuring on Channels TV’s Sunrise Daily, yesterday,
According to him, although the sector is monitored via the special control unit, more needed to be done.
According to Bawa, “One of the problems we have now is the real estate. 90 to 100 per cent of the resources are being laundered through the real estate.”
He said there are so many issues involved, but that they were working with the National Assembly to stop what he called “the gate keepers” as there would be reduction in looting if there is no one to launder the money.
Bawa, the EFCC boss, gave an example of a minister who expressed interest in a $37.5million property a bank manager put up for sale.
He said, “The bank sent a vehicle to her house and in the first instance $20million was evacuated from her house.
“They paid a developer and a lawyer set up a special purpose vehicle, where the title documents were transferred into.
“And he (the lawyer) is posing as the owner of the property. You see the problem. This is just one of many; it is happening daily.”
The EFCC chairman also revealed that he receives death threats often.
Asked to respond to President Muhammadu Buhari’s frequent “Corruption is fighting back” expression, Bawa said he was in New York, USA, last week, when someone called to threaten him.
“Last week, I was in New York when a senior citizen received a phone call from somebody that is not even under investigation.
“The young man said, ‘I am going to kill him (Bawa), I am going to kill him’.
“I get death threats. So, it is real. Corruption can fight back,” he said.
On corruption in the civil service, he said there were a lot of gaps, especially in contracts processing, naming “emergency contracts” as one.
Bawa said, “A particular agency is notorious for that. They have turned all their contracts to emergency contracts.”
However, he said, EFCC has strategies in place to check corruptions, one of which is “corruption risk assessments of MDAs”.
According to him, “I have written to the minister and would soon commence the process of corruption risk assessments of all the parastatals and agencies under the Ministry of Petroleum Resources to look at their vulnerability to fraud and advise them accordingly.”
Asked if the scope of corruption in the country overwhelms him, Bawa, the EFCC boss said, “Yes, and no.”

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We’ve Spent N9bn To Upgrade RSUTH, Wike Confirms

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The Rivers State Governor, Chief Nyesom Wike, says his administration has spent N9billion in upgrading structures and installation of new equipment at the Rivers State University Teaching Hospital (RSUTH).
He said the fact that 40 per cent of the 2021 budget of the state is dedicated to provision of quality healthcare delivery was a further demonstration of the priority placed on the sector.
Wike made the explanation at the foundation laying ceremony for the construction of a Renal Centre at RSUTH, last Friday.
The governor said he made promise to Rivers people that the best would be provided to them in all sectors of the society within his capability because of the mandate they gave to him.
“As we came on here, I just looked around and I see the changes in this teaching hospital. I can say that we have put not less than N9billion in this teaching hospital.
“If you look at the budget, the health sector alone, what it’s taking from the Rivers State Government is not less than 40 percent of the 2021 budget.”
Speaking further, Wike said the state government cannot afford to implement free medical service programme in the present economic circumstance.
While dismissing the request for a subvention for RSUTH, Wike, however, commended the chief medical director and his team for their commitment to turnaround the fortunes of RSUTH.
“I have never seen anywhere that health services can be totally free. They’re telling me that people who come here can’t pay. I have never declared that this state is going to take over the health fees of anybody.”
Also speaking, the former Minister of Transport, Dr. Abiye Sekibo, who performed the flag-off, noted that Wike’s achievements in the health sector in particular, surpass what former governors of the state had done.
Sekibo said that the governor has given equal attention to every section of the health sector by providing complete health infrastructure that was positioning the state as a medical tourism destination in Nigeria.
Earlier, the Rivers State Commissioner for Health, Prof Princewill Chike, lauded Governor Nyesom Wike for his interest in the health of Rivers people.
He noted that the renal centre, when completed, would become another landmark development project in the health sector that would handle and manage all kidney-related ailments.
In his remarks, the Chief Medical Director of the Rivers State University Teaching Hospital, Dr. Friday Aaron, commended Wike for approving the renal centre.
Aaron explained that chronic kidney disease was a major burden globally with estimated 14 million cases in Nigeria.
According to him, over 240,000 of these cases require renal replacement therapy in the form of dialysis and renal transplant.
The CMD said the building that would house the centre was expected to be completed in six months and consists of two floors.
The ground floor, according to him, would house the haemodialysis unit with eight haemodialysis machines.
He further explained that the first floor of the centre would house the surgical component where most of the sophisticated equipment for kidney transplant would be installed.
Aaron said Wike has released the funds required to build, equip the centre as well as for the training of personnel locally and internationally.

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